Dubai: Omana Menon still recalls the first couple who approached her in 1986. They needed her help in adopting a child.
It was an unusual request, because few expatriates in the UAE even spoke of adoption at that time, let alone went ahead with it.
However, this Punjabi couple from New Delhi had it all worked out. They informed Menon that authorities in India had requested them to have a social worker conduct a home study (assessment of prospective adoptive parents) on them and who better than her to do it in Dubai?
As founder-president of the Indian Ladies Association, Menon was engaged in community work, but she certainly wasn't prepared for something like this.
On the job
The desperation in the eyes of the couple, however, prompted her to call up authorities in India for advice and the next thing she knew she was on the job.
"I made the report in full faith and it was accepted by the family courts in New Delhi," she said, recollecting the move that paved the way for a homeless child from the Indian capital to find a home in the UAE.
Today, 24 years later, Menon has helped more than 1,600 such children find doting parents - and homes - in the region, 60 per cent of whom are in the UAE.
As the accredited authority for the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), India's nodal agency for adoptions under the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development, she said the influx of adopted children, going by her own home studies, had risen in the past three years from 60 in 2008 to 70 in 2009 and 25 in the first four months of 2010.
While failure to conceive naturally or through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments remains the overriding factor, Menon noted that diminishing stigma and growing acceptance of adoptions has prompted many couples, including those with their own biological children, to make the move.
"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself," Menon quotes Lebanese-American author Khalil Gibran. But she, more than anyone else, knows there is no taking away from the finer print.
The 69-year-old, who sees at least two to three prospective adoptive parents - mostly Indians - every week, has to contend with loads of paperwork as a single home study report can take at least 15 days to complete (see box), but she's more than happy to do it.
To begin with, she has to interview prospective parents, then collect, verify and compile documentary evidence of their medical, financial and social health.
After this, she gets the dossier attested by the Indian mission and sends it to CARA. She also has to counsel the adoptive parents on what to expect and conduct follow-ups through post-placement undertakings once the child arrives.
"There is a clause which says I am entitled to send the child back if there is any disruption or child abuse. But by the grace of God, I haven't had the need to do that so far," said Menon, who has a track record of proper paperwork enabling hassle-free adoptions.
These studies are conducted in accordance with the Hague Convention, the internationally approved framework for adoptions, added Menon.
Islam and adoption
The UAE itself is not a signatory to the convention. As Eman Esmail Abdullah Al Hashimi, Manager of Social Projects at the Islamic Affairs Department in Dubai, said, "Islam does not allow adoption. Sponsors can foster children, but cannot give their family name to the child."
However, expat families do adopt by adhering to legal requirements and restrictions in their home countries as well as countries from where the child is adopted. A no objection certificate has to be procured from the native land before a home study file can be opened in the UAE, she said.
"The paperwork to be done back home is not easy," said a 37-year-old Indian doctor in Abu Dhabi, thankful for Menon's documentation here which helped her adopt a girl in 2007.
"Everyone tells us that our daughter is blessed, but I feel my husband and I are more blessed," said the doctor.
Delving further into the adoption cycle, she said that the process of telling children that they have been adopted has to be gentle and done right at the beginning, by exposing them to similar incidents woven into religious and bed-time stories, or even through movies.
One from the heart
"I tell my son that he is a baby from my heart and not my stomach," said another Indian mother, 35, in Dubai, whose son, adopted from India, will turn five on June 3.
"My husband and I went in for adoption as we could not go through the trauma of another IVF treatment," she said. "The process was a cakewalk for us," she said, encouraging other couples in similar situations to go in for adoption.
For Menon, who is a mother of two with four grandchildren, each of the 1,600-plus stories is a silent feat in itself. Wife of the late B.K. Menon, a pioneering professional, Menon said she had led a full life and the home studies had provided her an opportunity to give back something to the community.
She said that her work is a social service, adding that she charges Dh1,000 per couple to cover costs of stationery, attestation, courier etc.
How to get started
- Check with government of home country about restrictions to adoptions while living abroad
- Procure no objection letter from home country
- Get a home study file opened at a licensed agency
- Provide documents for home study dossier
- Get guidance from adoptive families of same nationality or from support groups
Documents for Home Study:
- Medical certificate
- Proof of financial status
- Income statement
- Two references
- Certificates of educational qualifications
- Residence proof
- Marriage certificate
- Recent photographs
- Undertaking by adoptive parents that child will be nurtured as their own
Dr Phillips: Leading by example
Dubai Dr R.N. Phillips is someone who preaches what he practises. Director of a private clinic in Dubai, he and his wife Suzanne have adopted three girls, in addition to having two of their own biological children.
And as they share the joy of their experience, they offer their services to other expatriate couples seeking international adoptions.
The Synergy Integrated Medical Centre, set up by Dr Phillips, is licensed to conduct home studies and has helped over 50 adoptive couples, mainly westerners, over the past three years.
‘Not an agency'
"We are not an adoption agency," clarified Dr Phillips, saying that Synergy only helps people complete home studies and the necessary dossiers in keeping with the Hague Convention.
"The rules keep changing internationally, so one must keep track of the trends in various countries," said Dr Phillips.
Pointing to a portrait of his three adopted girls, the Canadian doctor said Anika, 25, was the eldest and was from South Korea, while Elani and Alexiane, 12, were four months apart in age and of Vietnamese origin. The reason he had zeroed in on Korea and Vietnam was because they were established routes for adoption, he said.
Dr Phillips said the concept of adoption had appealed to him even as a 10-year-old when he first saw a picture of American cowboy star Roy Rogers with adopted children from different countries. But it was only in 1985 that he brought Anika on board when his biological daughter Alisha was 13 and his son Eric was 10. Today, they're one big, happy family.
"I used to tell my children that real parents are those who raise you," said Dr Phillips, explaining the importance of fostering a sense of acceptance and self-worth among the children at a young age.
Emily Kerins, Integrative Counsellor at Synergy, said the centre counsels parents about being sensitive to the previous experiences of adopted children at an orphanage or other less fortunate places and to recognise that there will be a period of initial stress and adjustment.
"We do a life book with parents that tells the story of their adoption. It's an acceptable way for such families to form as they should not feel ashamed, afraid or hurtful," she said.
Home study fees
- Omana Menon: Dh1,000 (Contact: 04: 344 1455)
- Synergy Integrated Medical Centre: Dh10,000 (Contact: 04-348 5452)